Senate Set To Vote On $2 Trillion Coronavirus Economic Relief Legislation

Mar 25, 2020
Originally published on March 25, 2020 9:03 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Senate is aiming to vote today on a sweeping coronavirus relief bill. The price tag is roughly $2 trillion, more than twice as large as any rescue package passed during the last recession. Lawmakers say this legislation is an urgent attempt to keep the American economy afloat until life can go back to normal.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: This is not even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. Emergency relief - that's what this is.

CHANG: Details of that emergency relief are still being unveiled, even as senators are preparing to vote. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been reading through this massive bill and is here to explain some of the major elements.

Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right, so to start off, can you just remind us who is this bill aiming to help?

SNELL: Well, it's aiming to help virtually everybody in the country. You know, McConnell made an important point there in that they're not calling this a stimulus. They're calling it emergency relief. They're calling it a life preserver. Individuals learning - earning less than $75,000 will get a check for $1,200. People earning under $99,000 will get some relief, though it'll taper off from there. Parents will get $500 per child. And people who lose their jobs will get $600 a week for four months on top of state unemployment that they may already be receiving. Now, that includes freelancers and other people in the - what we would call the gig economy, who usually don't qualify. And there's also additional money to make sure that the food stamp program, also known as SNAP, can keep up with the new demands, so there is a lot of money in there. Also, small businesses can get forgivable loans, and big businesses can get loans that they mostly have to repay.

CHANG: Now, those loans to big businesses - those have been pretty controversial, I know.

SNELL: Right.

CHANG: Democrats say that they were trying to block an earlier bill, trying to get more regulations in place. What exactly were Democrats asking for that they got here, with respect to that issue?

SNELL: Yeah, so they were asking for a lot of new controls on any money that went to corporations. What they did get is there are some basic measures to make sure that employees are getting the money and are being kept on the payroll and not putting money towards stock buybacks, for instance - that those would be banned in this plan. And they got an independent inspector general and a review board to oversee all of this money. And it would also mean that there are no more broad powers for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who was supposed to be overseeing this in the original drafting of the bill. There's also, very interestingly, a ban on President Trump, Vice President Pence, Cabinet members and members of Congress from benefiting from any of this money through their business dealings.

CHANG: Huh.

SNELL: Right. And there's also a tax rebate for businesses of all sizes to kind of write off some of the payroll costs of keeping people onboard, even if the company is not open.

CHANG: So how quickly could this bill become law? I mean, how fast will it take - I mean, how fast can people get these checks?

SNELL: Yeah, so this is one of the more complicated questions because the goal is to get this into law before the end of the week. But right now a group of Senate Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rick Scott of Florida, are threatening to hold up the bill over those added unemployment benefits I just described. They say that some low-income workers could get more benefits than they currently make with the job that they aren't, you know, able to work at. Now, there are other challenges. In the House, there is a requirement of 24 hours' notice before they vote. And there are people, like the members from New York or people who are in quarantine, who might not be able to get even to Washington at all to vote. So there are still some complications and hurdles ahead.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Kelsey Snell.

Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.